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Success for Young Americans Lies in College Affordability?

Guest Blog by Andy MacCracken, Executive Director of National Campus Leadership Council

We owe $1 trillion in student loans. Whoa! That’s a one with twelve zeros!

That number may not have the same shock value it used to have—people have been talking about it for a while now—but I have to say that it terrifies me. I mean, it TERRIFIES me. Mostly because I have no idea what it actually means. I simply don’t have a reference point for understanding just how big a number that is.

I get embarrassingly excited when I find a long-forgotten $10 bill in my jacket pocket. That covers lunch, or some gas, or God forbid I, you know, save it for my future. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels that way. So when $10 seems significant, how can we even begin to address $1,000,000,000,000?

Well, the first step is to break it down. I own about $40,000 of that student debt pie. It’s a tiny sliver, but it’s my tiny sliver. And while $40,000 still seems like a big number, I have a little bit easier time getting my mind around it. More specifically, I know that it’s $40,000 I won’t be able to spend in the coming years, on a car, or a home, or that business I want to start up.

From my work with campuses around the country, I know that my story isn’t unique. In fact, it’s tragically common. Millions of people like me will be too busy paying off their little pieces of outstanding student debt to wield any real consumer power, undermining our generation’s prosperity and stunting the nation’s economy.

So, yeah, $1 trillion scares me. And it’s scaring the business community, too. That’s why NCLC are working with student body presidents around the country to identify manageable first steps to impact the issue on a local level, and looking to engage private sector leaders along the way.

We’ve seen success in Virginia when business leaders step up to help student leaders improve college affordability. Later this month, the two communities will come together at a forum with Young Invincibles and the US Chamber of Commerce, with many student leaders from NCLC in attendance. The equation is simple. A less burdensome education turns into healthier consumers and a bigger, better-educated workforce. Young people want to have disposable income and find a great job. Companies want our disposable income and to fill their jobs with the best talent in the world.

If we all come together to improve college affordability, my extra $10 can go to saving up for a house instead of paying off overwhelming debt. It starts with our student leaders standing up, reaching out to business leaders, and—together—working toward comprehensive reform to improve college affordability.